Q. My husband and I have a one-month-old baby. By himself, my husband doesn’t quite earn enough to pay our bills. I can either to go back to work in two weeks, or he’ll have to take a second job. Recently, I read a review of the book Being There by Erica Komisar, which stresses the importance of mothers staying home with their children. Now I’m feeling guilty about going back to work, but worried that if my husband works two jobs, our baby won’t see much of him. What advice do you have?
A. I decided to read Being There before answering you. Komisar, a psychoanalyst, makes a strong case for being home with your children. She points to substantial research that confirms the more time a mother can devote to the first three years, the better the chance her child will be emotionally secure and healthy throughout his life. She cites a 2009 study by researchers at Bar-Ilan University about touch reducing the stress hormone cortisol. And she argues that no one can take a mother’s place because of the special bond between mother and child.
As I read this book, I thought of all the people I’ve seen in therapy who had a stay-at-home mom but believe they have problems because of terrible mothering. I thought about the kids I’ve worked with who have severe behavioral problems at home and school and who also have a stay-at-home mom. It’s really more about the mothering behaviors than just being at home with the child, isn’t it?
Can you be a good mother if you return to work? In my opinion, it’s important for your child to feel loved, safe and cared for. It’s important to help your child accomplish developmental tasks and develop good social behavior. This can happen even if you decide to go back to work—provided you can find good child care and when you’re home, you’re nurturing and attentive to your child’s needs, as well as your own. There are good mothers who stay at home and good mothers who work. To get a better idea of what good parenting is, think about googling “Parenting Classes in Austin” for you and your husband. Taking parenting classes will give you some good ideas about parenting and most probably increase your self-confidence in your style of parenting.
I suggest you put aside your guilt about returning to work and focus on what will work best for your family. If you’re wanting to be home with your baby a little longer, perhaps you can look at options like returning to work part-time and gradually moving to full-time, rather than abruptly moving to full-time work. Or maybe your husband can take on a bit more work while you take on part-time work. Or maybe you’ll need to return to work full-time as soon as possible. Look at your work options and your budget.
While Komisar is sold on the idea of moms staying home, she does recognize that some mothers need to work. To help the mother who goes to work, Komisar provides a great guide for interviewing prospective caregivers and suggestions for choosing a daycare. Komisar also provides many ideas for how to be present for your child. I suggest you read Being There with the mindset to take away what is helpful and will work for you, and dismiss what won’t work for you.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.
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